Many schools now offer inclusion programs, where children with special needs are integrated within a regular classroom. They have access to the same curriculum and extra-curricular activities like fieldtrips or school plays, and get to interact with other kids from the same age-range.
Inclusion programs are not for everyone, but with the proper guidance and environment, these can work miracles for every child and teacher involved.
Children conform to expectations
Children tend to conform to expectations. Tell them that they’re stupid, slow, or temperamental, and they will prove that you are right. Some children—like Joey, a four-year-old with delayed speech—had difficulty forming clear words. He would be so frustrated that he would often erupt into tantrums.
Joey joined an inclusion program, and teachers were careful not to label him as ‘difficult.’ Instead, he joined regular class activities, which were slightly modified so he would be ‘encouraged to succeed.’
However, Joey did receive additional guidance. All inclusion programs offer a variety of additional support mechanisms for kids with special needs. They may be given different work sheets, or the instructions may be adjusted (for example, a child with writing difficulties may be asked to explain his answer verbally). Others have shadow teachers, who work with them throughout the class. Other schools offer supplementary sessions after class, where kids get individualized attention from speech therapists or occupational therapists.
This teaching philosophy is based on the principle that kids are unique. Understand their strengths and weaknesses, and guide them towards experiences where they can be their best. Under this guidance, Joey thrived.
Everyone learns from each other
At the start of the school year, Joey didn’t have a lot of friends. But as the months passed, classmates started to talk and play with him. Even the kids who used to avoid him started to show concern, sharing their food, inviting him to play with them after school, and hugging him goodbye when it was time to go home. Others would even protect him from teasing on the playground.
The other children had watched the teachers and learned how to communicate with Joey. They accepted that he was simply ‘different’ and accepted him unconditionally. This is a much, much more extraordinary accomplishment than learning how to count from 1 to 15, or recite the alphabet perfectly. Their experience with Joey gave them a life skill they could never have learned from the books.
Experts have observed this in many schools. Kids who are in a school with an inclusion program are more accepting and appreciative of individual differences, and are more comfortable with students with disabilities. They also learn to be more helpful and the ability to help others improves their self esteem. By relating to different kinds of people they also develop their communication and social skills. They also have a strong early foundation for learning important values in life.
What to look for in an inclusion program
Ask about the training and experience of the teachers. Try observing a class, or asking the school for a profile of who will be assigned to your child.
Also look at the school curriculum and if it can be adjusted for your child’s special needs. Ask them how many similar cases they’ve handled, what kind of activities support tools you can expect, and whether these are included in the tuition or have a separate fee.
Photo from nationalministries.org